Why Does Love Hurt? Here Are the Facts
People wonder why love can hurt so much. But the pain of a breakup is not that hard to understand when you look at human beings from a historical perspective.
Our emotional makeup is designed for a different time and place. A hundred-thousand years ago when our current emotional systems came fully into play, life was quite different. We needed ties that bound us closely together simply to survive.
In prehistoric times, you couldn’t completely disconnect from someone forever just because you’d quit making love to each other. It was a jungle out there. Nobody said goodbye and moved out of town after a lover’s quarrel. There weren’t any towns to move to.
The creatures that jumped out of the bushes had claws and teeth and could kill you. Someone had to cover your back. And it would have taken you a couple months to find the next tribe. They were wandering somewhere in the bush, just like your tribe, in an area you shared about the size of Rhode Island.
In these circumstances, people’s relationships were at a high enough level of civility that they didn’t suddenly try to disconnect and move on like we do today. They might have moved on to another sexual partner within the tribe. But it would have been without making a wild, dramatic scene, where you dissed the person forever. After all, in a small tribe most people knew everyone as friends.
In the Past, All Relationships were Serious
In those prehistoric times, all relationships—social or sexual—were serious. People lived in the NOW with about 50 to 250 other people. They stuck together and were never alone. And the average lifespan was about 29 years. So you didn’t wait until age 26 to 30 for starting a serious long-term relationship, like what is customary today.
You also had to be tight with your lover because love wasn’t a game. There was no birth control and one out of every ten live births resulted in the mother dying from complications--mostly from infections. So the whole tribe watched out for the kids because mothers often passed on, leaving their young ones behind.
Because everyone depended on everyone else, those who had strongest emotional ties to each other were the most likely to survive. In this environment, when you lost someone, it was not because your in-love, go-crazy relationship faded away. Rather it was often because your partner or friend had died. And when a person died, you grieved.
A Modern Lifestyle With an Ancient Emotional Makeup
Today, we have inherited that same emotional makeup that causes us to want to try bind together and look out for each other. But our lifetime is three to four times longer than our ancestor’s lives. So we go through many more life transitions. Individuals are also capable of supporting themselves alone--without a tribe.
That is why In modern society our ancestor’s ability to bond tightly together is not always called for. Yet, you cannot escape the pain of going through modern life transitions because there is no “off” switch for our ancient emotional makeup. So when there’s a breakup, it can feel like the person actually died.
Breakups Can Feel Like Someone Died
This explains, as Dr.Tiffany Field has noted, why a lover’s breakup can leave you experiencing the symptoms of grief. Those symptoms include an initial fight-or-flight response and real heart pain, followed by a run-down feeling, along with mental numbness, a sense of meaninglessness, and a denial of reality. These are the feelings that our ancestors felt when someone died. And they are the price humans still pay for having the potential to create strong emotional ties that bind.
What this means to you now is that you’re designed to grieve and then move forward when you lose somebody during a breakup. And the reason that you might dwell so long on a breakup is because you don’t have that tribal support which everyone had in the days of old. In all reality, sometimes you feel totally alone.
Romance as a Learning Experience
But if you don’t want to risk feeling all alone, think of a healthy love relationship as a learning experience. That is where each person gradually matures emotionally. And if you go your separate ways, it’s just OK. A least you learned something.
This perspective raises satisfaction in relationships by lowering expectations. People live and let live without forcing the relationship to move forward before its time. When relationships do move forward, they are on steady ground. That is because partners have taken the time to understand the emotional dynamics of their partnership--and become friends, something which is lacking so often in the rush of things today.